By David Heathcote
The idea of employing ex-offenders is noble, with benefits to businesses, individuals and society. We may admire companies that include ex-offenders in their team and may wish to do so ourselves. We may, however, find reasons for ‘parking’ the idea: now may not be the right time; we’re not able to absorb the extra responsibilities like bigger companies; how can we sell it to our colleagues, customers etc?
The reasons for parking the idea of ‘what’ we would like to do create understandable barriers when we are unconscious of ‘why’ we would like to do it – the inner belief in our heart that we have not yet connected to our mind. If we could only find our ‘why’, we might instinctively persuade ourselves and others and make lives better.
Winston Churchill, the great statesman and icon of Britishness, believed in: “… a desire and eagerness to rehabilitate in the world of industry all those who have paid their dues in the hard coinage of punishment
“… and an unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every man – these are the symbols which in the treatment of crime and criminals mark and measure the stored-up strength of a nation, and are the sign and proof of the living virtue in it.”
An unfaltering faith that there is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of every[one]. These words touch me in a way I cannot describe.
Simon Sinek’s book ‘Start With Why’ explains that most people or businesses state what they do and perhaps how they do it, but few will explain ‘why’ they do it. This is because ‘why’ has no language – it is a feeling that, when successfully communicated, engages those who believe what we believe.
Apple for example, have succeeded in emotionally engaging those who share the same beliefs and are therefore ‘Apple people’, no matter what. It is the reason for their success.
I believe in challenging the status quo to make people’s lives better and have been involved in some wonderful projects to help probationers and prisoners.
In a programme to reduce reoffending through self-employment, we saw one probationer move from complete disengagement (he was probably pressured to be there) to becoming so completely bought into planning his new business that we had to push him to take his complimentary lunch – his business budgeting could wait!
What changed him? We believed in him.
The final part of his two-day journey was to stand in front of fellow probationers and give the elevator pitch for his new business. This was a big moment for him. After he delivered it, he rushed to his seat and cried. What happens when we try to tell people about this? You can imagine!
There is a treasure, if you can only find it, in the heart of everyone.
If you, Churchill and I have this core belief, barriers that allow us to park the idea of employing ex-offenders until a ‘better’ time can be removed. Wondering ‘how’ to convince colleagues, the board, and customers, are merely transactional considerations that can be resolved if we are conscious of, and communicate, a belief in ‘why’ we want to find – and be – that treasure.
A final thought: in my first few days of a project in prison education, I was asked for my prison number before entering the education building. It took three attempts to explain that I was a visitor delivering a course. It struck home that you or I could be there ‘but for the grace…’ and I felt vulnerable.